MANKATO — Finally ... the Minnesota State baseball team got its offense going.
After three games in which they had to rely on pitching and defense to earn victories, the Mavericks erupted for 18 hits and 17 runs in the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament Sunday at Franklin Rogers Park. The result was a 17-1 victory against St. Cloud State to win the tourney championship and advance to the Elite Eight for the third time in the last four years..
“We knew the potential was there for our offense to get going,” MSU head coach Matt Magers said. “We were finally able to get some key hits and string some hits together and it just snow-balled from there.”
The MSU attack, which was aided by five SCSU errors, was holding a 5-1 lead entering the seventh. Three outs later, the Mavericks had a 16-1 advantage as they sent 15 batters to the plate.
During the 11-run uprising, Parker Sullivan had two RBI-singles and Scott Lindner also had two hits. Teammate Todd Standish finished the game with three hits.
By time the game’s final out was recorded, Sullivan, Lindner, Lucas Skjefte, Connor McCallum and Nolan Johnson had two hits apiece. Sullivan, McCallum and Mike Andries each had two RBIs.
Magers was glad to get some production from center fielder Sullivan and second baseman Skjefte who had been struggling for much of the tournament in the top two spots in the order.
Combined they were hitting .207 with just two RBIs in the first three tournament games.
“They are our table-setters,” Magers said. “We need them to get on base for Connor and Nolan and Stetson.
“I knew it would happen, it was just a case of when. Lucas got hot in the last two games and they’ve both been playing great defense all season for us.”
MSU starter Nick Sutherland wasn’t particularly sharp with his control during the early going but was effective nonetheless. He scattered six hits, struck out four and walked two.
The Huskies’ only run came across in the fourth when Brian Hansen stroked a one-out single to left, moved up on a walk to Sean Borman and scored on a base hit to right by Michael Jurgella.
“I was trying to figure out why I was struggling with my location (in the early going) and I realized I was dragging my back foot a little too much,” Sutherland said. “I worked on my footwork between innings and made sure I was picking up my back leg and that seemed to fix it.”
Sutherland said his slider was his best pitch Sunday. After he got the big lead, however, he wasn’t too selective about what he was throwing.
“That changes the whole dynamic when you get a big lead like that,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for our offense to get hot and it finally showed up today.”
As soon as MSU put the finishing touches on its 11-run, seventh-inning, the game was stopped briefly due to rain and lightning. After about a 20-minute delay, play resumed and Sutherland went out to pitch one more half inning.
MSU catcher Nolan Johnson, who was named the tournament MVP at the conclusion of the game, agreed that the bats couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
“We were gradually building a lead out there and then we put it all together in the seventh,” he said. “We strung some hits together, built some momentum and just kept going. It makes it a lot easier on the pitchers who did a phenomenal job for us the whole tournament.”
Johnson was one of four Mavericks to be named to the All-Tournament team at the conclusion of the competition. Joining him were third baseman McCallum, outfielder Sullivan and starting pitcher Jason Hoppe.
St. Cloud State ends its season with a 37-11 record. The Mavericks (39-8) begin play in the Division II College World Series at 4 p.m. Saturday in Cary, North Carolina.